Talks to increase US troops to begin in Manila
Updated: 2013-08-13 08:05
The United States and the Philippines begin formal negotiations this week to increase the rotational presence of US forces in the former US colony, deploying aircraft, ships, supplies and troops for humanitarian and maritime security operations.
The widening military cooperation, which includes the use of local bases for temporary deployments, signals rapidly warming security relations between the allies as the Philippines looks to the US to help counter China.
"We stand ready to tap every resource, to call on every alliance to do what is necessary to defend what is ours, to secure our nation and to keep our people safe," Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told a news conference at the main army base in Manila.
Del Rosario said the security framework agreement would improve maritime security while the military builds up its own capability for territorial defense.
The talks coincide with a resurgence of US warships, planes and personnel in the region as Washington turns its attention to China and shifts its foreign, economic and security policies toward Asia.
He said the talks would focus on the rules for the increased US presence.
The Philippines previously hosted tens of thousands of US soldiers at two bases north of Manila, but they were forced to leave in 1992 after the Senate voted to end their lease contracts amid strong anti-US sentiment.
A new agreement that went into force in 1999 allowed US troops to return to the Philippines for joint military exercises, and thousands of US troops regularly flow through the country during war games.
US special operations forces have also been rotating through the southern Philippines since 2002 to help Filipino soldiers against al-Qaida-linked militants, with the maximum number at any one time believed to hover at about 600. Philippine authorities have said the new agreement will pave the way for more joint war games.
Negotiations for the new agreement begin on Wednesday in Manila and both sides hope to conclude talks this year, or after four rounds of discussions, said Carlos Sorreta, head of the US desk at the foreign ministry.
"It's not a basing agreement," Sorreta, spokesman for the four-member negotiating team, told a news conference.
"These negotiations will lead to incremental security benefits and cooperation rather than a fundamental shift in the regional military balance of power," said Patrick Cronin, of the US-based Center for a New American Security. "These talks are an important symbol of a refashioned alliance."
Cronin said the upgrading of the alliance "will serve the interests of both nations and the region", adding that pre-positioned equipment would improve readiness to deal with natural disasters and other contingencies.
Left-wing activists criticized the Aquino government for allowing a de facto basing agreement with the US. "The Philippines will be one giant weapons depot for US forces," said Renato Reyes of Bayan Muna, or Nation First, an umbrella organization of anti-US activist groups.